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The male occupational structure of England and Wales, 1600-1850

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Keibek, Sebastiaan Antonius Johannes  ORCID logo


This dissertation builds on existing work by members of the ‘Occupational Structure of Britain 1379-1911’ project, led by Leigh Shaw-Taylor and E.A. Wrigley. It addresses three central problems of the project, namely (a) the lack of geographical and temporal coverage by the project’s existing data sources before the nineteenth century, (b) the allocation of the numerous men with the indistinct denominator of ‘labourer’ to occupational sectors, and (c) the correction of occupational structures derived from single-occupation denominators for the (presumed) ubiquity of dual employments in the early-modern world. The solutions to these problems result in a set of estimates for the male occupational structure of England and Wales between 1600 and 1850, in twenty-year time intervals, at the level of sectors (primary, secondary, tertiary) and sub-sectors (farmers, miners, textile workers, transport workers, etcetera), at national, regional, and local geographical scales.

These estimates raise important questions regarding the validity of conclusions drawn in the highly influential national accounts literature. Firstly, they place the structural shift from agriculture to industry firmly in the seventeenth and, to a lesser degree, even the sixteenth century, well before the Industrial Revolution. This, in turn, means that productivity growth in the secondary sector during the Industrial Revolution must have been much higher than previously thought, and thereby also the effects of technological and organisational innovation.

Secondly, it provides strong evidence that although economic developments during the eighteenth and early-nineteenth century may seem to have been limited and gradual at the national scale, this surface calm hides diverging regional developments which were anything but limited and gradual, held together by a persistently growing transport sector. The result was a regionally specialised yet integrated economy, firmly in place at the eve of the Industrial Revolution which – in light of the known role of small, specialised regions as incubators of technological innovation and novel forms of economic organisation in present-day economies – may well have contributed to Britain’s precocious transition to modern economic growth.




Shaw-Taylor, L


occupational structure, male labour force, England and Wales, long eighteenth century, Industrial Revolution, economic geography, productivity


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
ESRC (1085661)
ESRC 1+3 studentship